Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! The History of Mardi Gras

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! The History of Mardi Gras

Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler! Let the good times roll!

New Orleans, Louisiana is famous for its Mardi Gras parties and parades… Let’s explore how it all got started!

Finding Pointe du Mardi Gras

To get to the origins of Mardi Gras in the Americas, we have to go way back in history to 1699. There was a group of French-Canadian explorers traveling through the Gulf of Mexico. They landed and made camp about 60 miles south of present-day New Orleans.

The story goes, once they realized what day it was…Tuesday…they declared their camp Pointe du Mardi Gras in honor of the holiday which has been celebrated in France since the middle-ages.

the word tuesday

What’s the significance of that Tuesday?

Well, it was “Fat Tuesday!” That’s what Mardi Gras means in French. Mardi is Tuesday, and Gras is fat.

Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the Lenten season in Catholic and Christian religions. It’s a season of fasting that lasts 46 days and ends on Easter Sunday.

Depending on where you are in the world, it’s called something different. Like in England, they call it Shrove Tuesday… Or Pancake Day (sounds like a fun kind of day!)

plate of pancakes

In Brazil, Italy, and Portugal the festivities are called Carnival.

Rio de Janeiro boasts the biggest Carnival celebration in the world! The people of Rio have been putting on huge 5-day long celebrations of Mardi Gras since 1723.


So, why a party before a season of fasting?

To prepare for the fasting season of Lent, people clear out their pantries before Ash Wednesday because they give up eating meat and other foods that are considered indulgent.

What foods have to go? Among other things:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Eggs
  • Lard

To use up those ingredients, people make cakes, pancakes, and other sweets to feast on. In the past, whole towns would come together to have a party, just the way they still do today!

A big part of the celebrations in France includes waffles and crepes for Mardi Gras.


The First Mardi Gras In The US Was Not In New Orleans

When people in the United States think of Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Louisiana comes to mind. The festivals, parades, and week-long parties are famous.

According to the history notes, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville, the leader of the French-Canadian expedition, named Pointe du Mardi Gras, and he also settled Forte du Mobile in 1702.

That settlement eventually became Mobile, Alabama. And in 1703, the French settlers there held the first organized celebration for Mardi Gras.

New Orleans was founded in 1718. The first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans wasn’t until 1837.

Sorry, New Orleans. Mobile, Alabama takes the honors.

The Colors of Mardi Gras

mardi gras mask and beads

The colors of Mardi Gras are traditionally green, gold, and purple. Each color has a meaning. Green is for faith. Gold is for power. And purple is for justice.

The colors were chosen in 1872 to honor a visitor to the celebration in New Orleans-Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff!

Mardi Gras is a feast for the senses

 Mardi Gras parade float

Sounds: Listen to the live music that fills the air from marching bands in the many parades to musicians playing in the streets. Jazz, blues, calypso, soca, and samba are just a few types of music you can enjoy.

Sights: Take in all the beautiful decorations from the costumes and masks to the floats (once called tableaux cars) in the parades.

During the parades of Mardi Gras in New Orleans the members riding on the floats have candy, embossed coins, and bead necklaces that they will toss out to the crowds along the route.

Plus, everyone taking part in the parades are required, by law, to wear a mask. You’d be breaking the law if you didn’t dress up!

Tastes: And then there’s the food of Mardi Gras.

Muffuletta sandwiches, grilled meat on a stick, jam-filled doughnuts (also called paczki,) and lots of other street foods abound.

Don't forget the cake!

It wouldn’t be a party without cake.

king cake for mardi gras

And King cake…takes the cake!


The traditions for this rich, and yummy dessert go back even further than the celebrations for Mardi Gras, and are said to have started in the middle ages in Spain and France.

When people began to migrate to the Americas, they brought the tradition along.

Uncooked beans, tiny trinkets, and small porcelain baby dolls are baked into the cake.

When the cake is served, whoever finds the item that was baked into the cake is the person who has to make the cake and host the party the next year. Today, the trinkets are simply sold with the cake, rather than baking them in the dough.

How Will You Celebrate Mardi Gras?

The history of Mardi Gras is rich in tradition and flavored with all the cultures that celebrate it.

You can explore flavors around the world with eat2explore!

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